First, let me open by saying, on the whole, there is no right or wrong way to use social media. Anyone pounding their fist on the keyboard, harping that you’re doing it wrong simply means you’re doing it wrong for them. You have to find what works for you, your resources, and what you want to get out of social media. What’s more, with the ever-changing landscape of tools, apps, and features, what works for you today may not work for you tomorrow.
Maybe it’s the time of year–a period of reflection over the last 365 days while renewing a focus on what’s important–that has many people re-examining how social media is working for them. The fall guy du jour is Twitter. “It’s too noisy!” “The conversations just move so fast, I can’t keep up!” “Facebook is better because it doesn’t limit me to 140 characters.” Some have concluded that the only solution is a mass exodus-style unfollow. While mindful pruning of your connections (on any social network) is a good idea, a large-scale purge may not be.
Right or wrong, many people take social media personally. Especially when they know the person on the other side of the username in a face-to-face manner. And why can’t it be personal? For some, social media is their telephone, water cooler, and text messaging system all in one; it’s their lifeline connection to the world. A mass unfollow risks hurt feelings and/or confusion–perhaps doubly so if you use Twitter for personal and business connection.
“Oh, please. Hurt feelings over the internet?! They’ll get over it,” you say? Alright, consider this point from my insightful friend Kevin Mullett (whom I likely would not know if it weren’t for Twitter, by the way): “The more people of quality, or potential quality, that leave [a social network], the more the feeling, or perhaps reality, of it being a channel where less value can be had is perpetuated. (i.e., I hate to see good people give up, because it incrementally becomes less valuable for all.)”
Social media is, at its very core, an input/output machine. If you want quality and value, you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves, apply a bit of elbow grease, and make it happen. Otherwise, you’re quitting. But you’re not just quitting a social network: you’re quitting the potential it holds, the connections you’ve built, and the opportunities you may not find anywhere else.
If the real issue isn’t a lack of interest or commitment–if it really comes down to just time and clutter in your feed–there’s an easy solution. Think back to when you first joined Twitter. You probably followed your favorite bands, athletes, entertainment stars, products, and more, right? “Man, this is great! I’m following Justin Bieber! It’s like we’re buddies now!” (Oh c’mon, I know that wasn’t just me.) Suddenly, your Twitter feed is full of people you’ve never met and likely never will meet yammering on about what they ate for lunch at some swanky cafe, taking selfies with more people you’ve never met, and promoting their latest and greatest. If that’s what interests you then Twitter is working for you. But if you’re seeking connections with everyday folks in the city you just moved to, feedback on that creative project you’ve been pouring yourself into for weeks, or just want to talk about some of the little, dumb shit that fills our lives, well, those connections might get lost in the shuffle of Beyoncé, Taco Bell, and Google.
Enter one of the most underutilized Twitter features: lists. They take minutes to set up, are a breeze to manage, and help cut through the clutter in your Twitter feed. All the big name brands and celebrities that don’t even know I exist? They all go on a Twitter list called “entertainment,” and I don’t outright follow those accounts. (Except you, Charmin and MelloYello. You’ve been generous with the Twitter love.) I can check in with these accounts any time via this list without them flooding my feed. This allows me to focus on what’s really important (to me) when I pick up my phone or log in from my computer: engaging connections. I’m on Twitter for the conversation, to feel connected to the world, and to help others. To that end, lists can help again.
“If you aren’t ready to change your habits [on Twitter], double down and try to make it work–which is certainly understandable, as we all have to choose where to invest our time–then unfollowing everyone isn’t really going to matter. I would segment people with lists and just pay attention to a list,” advised Kevin. Lists work both ways: they can segment distractions from your feed or they can hyper-focus your attention on a select group of accounts. Perhaps these are your VIPs, must-read tweets, or morning news while you’re waiting in the carpool line. The beauty of Twitter lists is that they can be used in a variety of ways to optimize your experience.
Even with the vast spectrum of features and tools at our fingertips, some may still feel it necessary to purge their Twitter (or quit all together). And that’s OK. As much as I love Twitter, I recognize that it isn’t right for every person, organization, or goal. But if your chief argument is the clutter or lack of value, invest some time in resolving the issue before throwing in the towel. If you’re not willing to put in the effort, don’t complain about a lack of results.